by Myriem Le Ferrand-Radjef | socialfieldwork.net
No one holds the reins, folks. “We the people” could set the course of our better futures. Yes, representatives hold a theoretical legitimacy to govern. However, legitimacy is a poor substitute for actuality – the facts – in the decisions that affect us. Authority to govern or legislate draws solely from our approval whether tacit, complacent or active.
If we are to actively transform what we now know to be broken, we begin by coming together to better inform decisions and to assess claims made by agencies, local government, nonprofits, corporate brands and candidates for office.
We believe that Democrats are the good guys: they are cool and environmentally savvy. They represent our selfless values in protecting the less fortunate. In turn, the Republicans are the bad guys: they represent business interests first, people and planet last.
Is that really so? We hand over our authority through a series of elections. However replacing G.H.W. Bush with Clinton did not change the pace of climate change nor did it spare critical habitat. We did not see immigration issues alleviated nor social justice truly addressed.
So, how did we lose the reins? A partial explanation lies in legislation passed in the sixties, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The rule-making process established regulations requiring Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). However, for a range of reasons, EIS roll out fell short. As time passed, contractors hired to conduct EIS often wrote statements based on existing studies rather than up-to-date social or ecological impact assessments. In the cumulative aggregate, we can now see the devastating consequences of ill-informed public decisions rippling through our social and natural landscapes, and by extension at the national and even global level.
Now in our extreme times, shock value rhetoric overshadows plain speak and common sense. The day-in and day-out of “environmental stewardship” is reduced to arguments about climate change (i.e. planet in trouble); “real people” are reduced to disputes over immigration, health care, color, and education. The story is much more complex. We must reclaim the narrative.
We start with real local input. Real local input requires we roll up our sleeves and do social fieldwork. Social fieldwork has a feel of community organizing, but is more bottoms up. Social fieldwork is getting together and documenting what is important. It is community dialogue and research that lingers in the common understanding as a bond of truth to recognize fake news and false claims immediately. Social fieldwork is unbiased, academically rigorous, participatory research. From there, we can begin to inform ecological and social impact assessments and establish baseline indicators of wellness in our communities and neighborhoods. Real local input will take time and practice. Don’t give up. It can be done. It must be done!
To make good decisions, we must have good information. Each election cycle is an opportunity to join together to inform our democracy with real local input. If we do the work, we can link together our common interests beyond green, brown, red, and blue. We can unify what has been divided. The difference between what is and what can be is in our hands.